In a country where violence and the threat of violence is a constant weather for queer Black people, where can the spirit rest?
With lush language, the meditative poems in the Isabella Gardner Award-winning Tenderness examine the fraught nature of intimacy in a nation poisoned by anti-Blackness and homophobia. From the bedroom to the dance floor, from the natural world to The Frick, from Florida to Mexico City, the poems range across interior and exterior landscapes. They look to movies, fine art, childhood memory, history, and mental health with melancholy, anger, and playfulness.
Even amidst sorrow and pain, Tenderness uplifts communal spaces as sites of resistance and healing, wonders at the restorative powers of art and erotic love, and celebrates the capaciousness of friendship.
When we finally make it, we sit on cold stones.
The river curling over and under our feet
even colder. His secret place.
The air has that early fall smell, things beginning
to rot, the wet soil nourishing itself.
Anything could happen
to me in this white ass town. I’m terrified
if he knows that and terrified if he doesn’t.
My body is puffy, unremarkable.
I’ve grown distant and sullen.
A witch told me gin placates the dead.
Whose dead have I been trying to drown
drinking my own elegy?
He asks if I’m happy, and I say yes. See how easy it is
to get here, he says. Yes,
I say. But you have to take me back.
“This is a stunning collection for these challenging times when intimacy has escaped us but will, eventually, return. Let this book be your primer.”
—NPR's 2021 Poetry Preview
“Derrick Austin is to a blank page what Titian was to a white canvas. In both of their works, audiences will find an exemplary adroitness with portrait, landscape, and myth. Tenderness, Austin’s second poetry collection, weaves a sinuous lyric that navigates both the physical and metaphysical surroundings of a traveler desirous of understanding, desirous of being understood. The reader senses a certain urgency in the question of how to find tenderness and connection in a world intent on the project of othering. Austin skillfully excavates the rhizomatic truth of belonging and the vulnerable places where God can be found—a touch, a glance, a history, a remembrance.”
—Airea D. Matthews
“It's nice to know that poetry is still a place to go and find some Tenderness, and Derrick Austin's gentle touch is filled with genuine compassion and those soft wounds of the heart that act as release. ‘A heaven wider than androgyny is sugar on my tongue.’ The world is not shut out but let in, writ in dew and dust, ecstatic invocations and quiet elegies, hurricanes and the calm just after. After all, tenderness is not only sweet. It is also the place where we recognize the threshold of pain. ‘There's a snowbank / of roses on the sidewalk / where America unmade me.’”
—D. A. Powell